“What if they ditched the van somewhere and moved her to a car that wasn’t stolen?”
We had crossed the Memorial Bridge at beagle pace, and were passing the Arlington National Cemetery.
“I don’t think they did that, Hank,” Elvis said. “They kidnapped Jillian in broad daylight. They would be afraid that someone would see her or hear her if they moved her to another car, I think.”
“Man, look at all these high rises!” Robbie said. “How’re we ever going to find her if she’s in one of those?”
“I do not think Jillian is in a high rise,” Elvis said. “That would also be too risky. I think we will find her close by in a house with a car park, or maybe a carbage.” He pronounced the last word to rhyme with “garage.”
What none of us had yet wondered aloud was how the power outage might have affected the kidnappers’ plans, or Jillian’s ordeal. It was now seven o’clock, and dusk. I felt my own anxiety mounting with the fading light. I wondered how long the dogs and handlers could hold out.
Fifteen minutes later, Elvis leaned forward and said, “Paul, I think we need to stop and decide how to proceed.”
We were inching along the Lee Highway into a residential neighborhood filled with the kind of houses that Elvis had described. Paul spoke into his walkie-talkie and pulled over. Joe and Cisco jogged to the car, and Larry and Elvis got out. They all walked over to confer with the handlers, and a couple of cops and the grumpy detective joined them. There was a certain amount of gesturing. Larry looked at the dogs. One of the handlers changed his company jacket for a plain beige windbreaker, and then two of the Spartan Security guys seemed to be rigging the two handlers with electronic devices of some kind. The detective went back to the police car behind us, and the two cops got back into their respective cars. One of the handlers exchanged a wave with Larry, and the two handlers and their dogs moved on.
Elvis climbed back into the van. “Now, we wait,” he said. Paul got into the driver’s seat again and set a boxy device on the dashboard. He pressed a few buttons and a screen on the dash lit up, showing a map of the neighborhood with a pinpoint of blinking light slowly moving away from our location. A plumber’s van with “L & G Plumbing” on the side pulled up across the highway, and the four Spartan Security guys crossed the road and got into it. Paul turned his head and said, a little wistfully, “They’ve got all our best equipment in there. And our best geek.”
Voices came from the box. One said quietly, “Can you hear us, Paul?”
“Loud and clear, buddy,” Paul said.
Another voice said, “Yeah, well, here we are, a couple of average guys, out walking our pooches in this nice, quiet neighborhood.”
Another car pulled up in front of us about half a block. A young couple got out, unfolded a stroller and a baby—or what looked like a baby but was probably a doll— from the back seat in record time, and began to walk in the same direction as the dogs.
“That’s not really a baby, is it?” Ginger asked.
Nobody seemed to know. In any case, nobody wanted to speak for fear of missing something coming in from the handlers.
Two bikers, lean in their skintight cycling shorts, zipped past us on the left. A minute later, another dog walker in a short haircut and loud jacket, crossed the highway in front of us and headed up the same sidewalk with a German shepherd on a leash.
Paul snorted. “I don’t know why the Fibbies think they can’t be spotted if they change their clothes. At least we have the light in our favor.”
The streetlights had come on, but they didn’t provide much illumination in the dusky half-light.
“Good thing those dogs are trained for distance work,” Robbie said at last, after a long silence.
“Let’s hope the G-man is,” Paul said.
Every now and then, one of the handlers would say irritably, “Come on, Pearl! Get out of the street.” And then after a pause, “You know better than that.”
“Does he say that every time somebody passes them on the sidewalk?” I asked.
“Well, the last thing we need at this point is a humane society agent on the scene, I guess,” Paul said.
“I don’t know why not,” Robbie said. “We got every other kind of law enforcement officer in the metro area.”
“But Pearl knows he’s not really mad at her, right, Larry?” Elvis said.
“She knows,” Larry said. “She’s a professional.”
“O-kay,” said a handler. “We’re turning onto North George Mason. Can you see us?”
“Yeah, we got you,” Paul said.
“What we got here is a nice little street of brick Cape Cods. Two stories, dormers. A-a-and, bingo! For Sale sign out front, probably rented, no lock box on the front door.” He read off the name and phone number of the realtor.
“You copy that, Teddy?” Paul said.
“Copy,” a new voice, female, answered.
Paul flipped a switch and we were looking at a dark video of the house he was describing. There was one light on downstairs and one upstairs, visible through drawn curtains, but it was hard to make out anything else.
The voice continued. “Blacktop driveway and—yes, we got us a van in the back. You see that sucker, Tom?”
“Too dark,” came the other voice. “It’s a light-colored van, but I can’t make out the tag. Whoops! There goes Pearl!”
The other voice was sharp. “Pearl! You come back here! Pearl!” There was a scrabbling sound, then a sharp voice. “Bad dog, Pearl!” The voice turned cranky. “I don’t know why I have to walk her. She always minds Susie, she never minds me.”
After a short pause, during which the only sounds were the sounds of footsteps, the voice returned. “Here’s the license. You ready?” And after Paul had copied it down, we heard, “Good dog, Pearl! Good dog!”
Paul said, “John, you got a visual?”
“Yep. Looks pretty quiet,” a voice said.
The woman named Teddy spoke again. “We’re moving into position.”
The plumber’s van pulled out, and in another few seconds it passed us and continued on.
“Bikers, where are you?” Paul said.
“We’re on the street behind,” a voice said. “Greg’s gone to look at the approach from the back, but there’s a lot of green space, all private yards.”
“And yards on both sides,” another voice added.
Nobody spoke for a while.
“What’s happening?” I said, impatient.
“Probably contacting the realtor,” Paul said.
Several minutes dragged by.
“The floor plan’s just coming through,” Teddy said. “I’m sending you a copy.”
I hadn’t noticed the printer mounted under the dash until it whirred into action.
There was a lot I wanted to ask, like why Spartan Security people seemed at this point to be in charge of the operation, as far as anybody was. It was clear that there were several agencies involved. Why hadn’t the Bureau cleared the area and taken over?
I finally leaned over and asked Ginger in a low voice.
“They—well, we—were first on the scene with the right equipment, I suppose,” she said. “Every law enforcement agency is still dealing with the fallout from the power outage today. They’re all up to their necks in crisis.” Her voice faltered a little. “One abduction probably just doesn’t seem all that important to them right now.”
“Not even with the spacemen involved?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Spartan’s reputation helps,” she said. “And Teddy used to work for the Bureau before she went to work for Spartan. So they know she knows what she’s doing.”
She leaned forward to study the floor plan Paul was offering for her inspection.
“I’m betting on an upstairs closet,” he said.
She nodded. “Ask Teddy what she can hear.”
In response, Teddy said, “Television downstairs. Deal or No Deal, if you can believe it. We’ve only heard two voices, speaking Arabic and English. Hold on.” We heard her speaking to someone else. “Hold on,” she repeated. “We’re getting Morse code from upstairs.”
“It’s definitely our girl. She’s upstairs in a closet in the room closest to the top of the stairs,” Teddy said at last. “Do you see it on the plan?” She paused. “Two men—well, that’s all she knows about, anyway. Weapons unknown.” She paused. “Now she’s repeating.”
“What’s the boss say?” Paul asked.
We heard conversation, then Teddy was back. “Okay, here’s the scoop. These guys—there are probably two of them—are cousins of the owner’s sister-in-law, staying there while the house is being sold. All the information we have on them suggests that they’re terrorist wannabes, not the real thing. But even wannabes can learn everything they need to know about explosives just by surfing the web. So we can’t guarantee that the house isn’t wired to self-destruct if something goes wrong. Best case scenario, we go in quietly, grab Jillian and get her out of there before we start throwing the tear gas.”
After a brief silence, Elvis said, “Dudes, when do we boogie?”